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IFX Forum expected to unveil Web services work

At its quarterly meeting next week, the financial services standards group is poised to deliver four Web services reference implementations.

The Web Services Working Group of the Interactive Financial Exchange (IFX) Forum is expected to deliver four reference implementations of Web services recommendations at the group's quarterly meeting next week, which will be hosted by Microsoft. These will include working Web Services Description Language, schema and downloadable examples -- three Java and one .NET, according to Richard Urban, president of the IFX Forum, based in Falls Church, Va. He said the group has also completed the first draft of the Web services implementation guide.

Web services is supposed to make the transport interoperable, and we make the content interoperable.
Richard Urban
PresidentIFX Forum

The IFX Forum is a not-for-profit standards organization working to develop an XML-based framework and messaging standards for the electronic business-to-business exchange of data among financial service institutions around the world.

The forum's current working groups are: ATM/POS (automated teller machine/point of sale), business banking, Web services and branch banking services.

Urban said the Web Services Working Group has been working for a year and a half on "adapting our message specification to operate smoothly in a service-oriented architecture. Web services was an interesting challenge for us. We thought there was a year's worth of work. There was a lot of good press about how everything was going to interoperate with XML and SOA, but when we got down to do it there were lots of hidden 'gotchas' and swamps."

For example, he said, "there were a lot of supposed security standards out there, but when you dug in, they really weren't there."

Another challenging area technically was the way the actual tools dealt with namespaces, Urban said. "It's real easy to use namespaces in a way that's convenient inside one organization, but to work across organizations and platforms, the namespaces decision we make could have a significant impact on whether something is hard or easy. How you do it can have a significant impact on the performance on some of the platforms."

The working group "did a deep analysis of WS-everything -- which are real, which are workable across platforms, what are the gaps." Urban said the group included participants from both Sun and Microsoft. "Those two organizations invested a lot of time and energy in the Web Services Working Group. Sun and Microsoft seemed to have played nice together. We got good strong experts from both companies, and they helped us work through the details of JAXB [Java Architecture for XML Binding]."

When version 2.0 of the IFX specification is released, it will mark the formal adoption of Web services and SOA, Urban said. The IFX Forum has always had a strong commitment to backward compatibility, he said, but the 2.0 spec "will be the first conscious break with backward compatibility; the content will remain compatible, but some of messaging and techniques used to move content will change."

The IFX Forum has memorandums of understanding and cooperation with X.12F, the financial part of X.12; the International Standards Team (IST) Harmonization Group, comprising the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, the Treasury Workstation Integration Standards Team, and Open Applications Group Inc.; and the Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development, around the insurance XML protocol.

IFX has been working with the IST Harmonization Group, with support from the banking industry, to define a common payment kernel, Urban said, the result of which appeared in version 1.6 of IFX. The cooperative work among the groups continues now around the remittance side of payments, he said.

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"A key part of our charter is to interoperate, which is why Web services looks so good to us," he said. "Web services is supposed to make the transport interoperable, and we make the content interoperable."

The IFX Forum, founded in 1997, based its original work around the Open Financial Exchange and IBM/Integrion Gold standard. The founding companies included IBM, Sun and Microsoft.

At the IFX Forum's annual meeting this past April, the membership approved version 1.7 of the IFX Business Message Specification for publication. New features included additional IFX messages and modifications to existing messages/message flows to support branch banking and call center transaction sets and functionality, the first deliverables from the forum's Branch Banking Services Working Group. The document is available for download at no charge from the forum's Web site.

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